Saint Paul College Culinary Department has partnered with Minnesota Central Kitchen, an initiative of Second Harvest Heartland, to create more than 25,000 meals since the COVID pandemic began reducing restaurant capacities in March 2020. Culinary students use food secured by a local food bank to prepare family-sized meals for distribution throughout the Twin Cities regional community. The Culinary program is pleased to add culinary activism teaching principles to its curriculum to help students learn both the art of preparing excellent meals and the societal impact one can achieve through food during challenging times like the COVID pandemic.
Once our kitchen site prepares its meals, they are distributed to the community through a network of a dozen partner organizations to more than 50 meal distribution sites. With one in nine adults facing food insecurities and this number increasing when many are unable or unwilling to go to a grocery store for supplies, this partnership truly serves a significant, growing community need. To date, the entire program has delivered over 1.4 million meals to seniors, school districts, and other vulnerable children and adults throughout the Twin Cities regional area.
Jason Ross, Culinary Instructor, notes that this project teaches culinary students many new vital areas of food preparation and distribution. It has inspired students to continue creating incredible meals while recognizing the life-changing impacts food can have on families during challenging times within their community. For example, this is what two culinary students had to say about this program:
“I find our work with Minnesota Central Kitchen to be one of the more rewarding and interesting aspects of my coursework within the culinary program. It's been challenging, rewarding, and fun. I love the creative and problem-solving aspects of devising an appealing and balanced menu based on available bulk donations. Likewise, it has been a tremendous learning experience to plan and execute the production of 300-400 meals in a day or so. This project also provides me with a great opportunity to gain hands-on experience with the equipment and techniques used in large-scale kitchen operations. Our work is so meaningful for our community which is so satisfying!"
Kimberly Pease, Saint Paul College culinary student
“Being part of Minnesota Central Kitchen was incredible! It was great to see a nutritious, colorful, and well-balanced meal sent out to the families in our community in need of this service. Too often, culinary students envision being a head chef at a high-end restaurant. There is nothing wrong with this dream, but I think the experience of cooking and packing meals for 400 people each week is a humble reminder that for many people, high-end dining is not on the table. We are called as chefs to feed people, and whether that is for our family, our community, our school, and no matter someone's economic status, everyone deserves a good, nutrient-dense food that feeds their bodies, as well as their minds."
Kristine Borys, Saint Paul College culinary student
Some of the teaching principles incorporated into our culinary curriculum through this large-scale project include:
- Planning for the process of food distribution while maintaining safe and healthy conditions for both the workers and food products;
- Bringing vision and reality together by creatively utilizing donated products within specific boundaries and with respect for different food cultures;
- Managing time constraints and labor resources on a large-scale basis;
- How to navigate nonprofit funding and government contracting to bring projects like this together for community benefit; and
- Inspiring community support through social media to fund these projects.
Students become invaluable change agents within the food industry as they are inspired to use the power of food and their kitchens to uplift, heal, and rebuild communities in the worst and best of times. Saint Paul College values our partnership with Minnesota Central Kitchen, and below is a statement from this partner on their gratitude for our culinary department on this life-changing project:
“Saint Paul College brings one of the most unique and powerful programs to the Minnesota Central Kitchen collaborative, not only in preparing quality meals for our community but in preparing our region's next generation of food industry leaders. Wherever students go next, they will bring a first-hand understanding of food insecurity in our communities and the role that everyone, from hospitality workers to commercial kitchens to community organizations to culinary programs, can play in nourishing our communities."
Emily Paul, Minnesota Central Kitchen founding director
For more information on how the Minnesota Central Kitchen project serves the Twin Cities regional area, visit
Minnesota Central Kitchen | Second Harvest Heartland (2harvest.org).